Bible Answer

Explaining the nature of saving faith

In teaching through Romans 3:25, you make a distinction between "through faith" and 'by faith," but I didn't understand the explanation. When Paul teaches we have salvation "through faith," rather than by faith, is Paul saying that faith is a passage way?

First, the Bible teaches that no man, by is own will or intellect, will ever choose to accept the Gospel and be saved.

Psa. 53:1  The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”
                  They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;
                  There is no one who does good.
Psa. 53:2  God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
                 To see if there is  anyone who  understands,
                 Who  seeks after God.
Psa. 53:3  Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
                  There is no one who does good, not even one.

No (natural) man seeks for God or understands His ways of righteousness, according to scripture. Not one. Paul explains further:

Rom. 8:5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on  the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit,  the things of the Spirit.
Rom. 8:6  For the mind set on the flesh is  death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
Rom. 8:7 because the mind set on the flesh is  hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
Rom. 8:8 and those who are  in the flesh cannot please God.

No (natural) man will ever set his mind upon the Spirit or the commandments of God. A man's mind is not even able to do so, Paul says. Therefore, no man can find God through his own intellect, for his natural fallen state precludes such a search or discovery. Simply put, men will not and cannot find God on their own.

In fact, a natural man is set against God, and he instinctively views God as an enemy. No amount of persuasion can overcome the sinful nature and its opposition to God. Our rejection of God is so complete that the Bible compares it to a state of death, as if we are a corpse, spiritually speaking.

Paul explains this further in Ephesians:

Eph. 2:1  And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
Eph. 2:2 in which you formerly walked according to the  course of  this world, according to  the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in  the sons of disobedience.
Eph. 2:3 Among them we too all  formerly lived in  the lusts of our flesh,  indulging the desires of the flesh and of the  mind, and were  by nature  children of wrath,  even as the rest.

Paul says it wasn't our sin that made us enemies of God; rather, it was our nature that brought us under His wrath. Our sinful behaviors are just eternal symptoms of this underlying spiritual problem. As the saying goes, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are born sinners.

In chapter 4, Paul contrasts the new state of every believer with his prior state as a natural man. Notice how Paul describes the state of an unbeliever:

Eph. 4:17   So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the  futility of their mind,
Eph. 4:18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;
Eph. 4:19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

Our former state prior to salvation was one in which we were "dead" to the gospel and we walked according to the "futility" of our minds. We were darkened in our understanding and excluded from the life of God because of an ignorance and hardness of heart that could not be penetrated apart from God's grace.

Paul sums up this problem simply in one verse in 1Corinthians:

1Cor. 2:14  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

We could describe salvation as a "Catch 22."  Paul says the message of the Gospel saves men, but it can only be understood by being spiritually appraised. In other words, you have to be saved already to understand the Gospel, since the message of God can only be understood by a living, born-again spirit. Notice Paul says a natural man "does not accept" the things of the Spirit. It is literally impossible for an unbeliever to believe the Gospel of their own will.

So how can anyone be saved????  The answer is God MUST act first to overcome our natural, unbelieving state by giving us a living spirit capable of belief in the Gospel. God MUST become the author of our faith, for faith can come no other way, according to scripture.

Paul explains this process at numerous points in the NT, but perhaps the best is found in Ephesian 2:

Eph. 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of  His great love with which He loved us,
Eph. 2:5 even when we were  dead  in our transgressions, made us alive together  with Christ ( by grace you have been saved),
Eph. 2:6 and  raised us up with Him, and  seated us with Him in  the heavenly places in  Christ Jesus,
Eph. 2:7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing  riches of His grace in  kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Eph. 2:8 For  by grace you have been saved  through faith; and  that not of yourselves, it is  the gift of God;
Eph. 2:9  not as a result of works, so that  no one may boast.

Notice Paul says that while we were still in that state of deadness, the Lord initiated the salvation process. By the Spirit, He gave us new life (made us born again by Spirit), through the gift of faith by which we believed the gospel. As Paul says in Romans 2:4, it is the kindness of God that brings us to repentance.

So in summary, God acted first to bring us new life by His Spirit, then as a result of that new spiritual birth, we gained the ability to have faith and believe the message of the Gospel.

Concerning Evangelism

We now turn to understanding what the Bible says concerning the role of the evangelist. First, we notice in the verses we read above that salvation comes BY grace and THROUGH faith, according to Ephesian 2:8.

Paul's connecting words are important. Salvation is not BY faith. It is BY grace. God's grace is what saves us, not our faith. If it were our faith that produced salvation, then we could take credit for our own salvation. Paul teaches that faith is a gift given to us, so therefore salvation is BY God's grace and manifested to us THROUGH our faith. Simply put, our evidence that God's grace has come to us is our faith in the Gospel, which is the means God has chosen for His children to display His grace to the word. As Paul said in Romans 3:

Rom. 3:21  But now apart  from the Law  the righteousness of God has been manifested, being  witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
Rom. 3:22 even the  righteousness of God through  faith  in Jesus Christ for  all those  who believe; for  there is no distinction;

Faith is the way by which God's grace is manifested in us.

Paul says this in 1Corinthians:

1Cor. 1:18  For the word of the cross is  foolishness to  those who  are perishing, but to us who  are being saved it is  the power of God.
1Cor. 1:19 For it is written,
1Cor. 1:20  Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of  this age? Has not God  made foolish the wisdom of  the world?
1Cor. 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God  the world through its wisdom did not come to know God,  God was well-pleased through the  foolishness of the  message preached to  save those who believe.
1Cor. 1:22 For indeed  Jews ask for  signs and Greeks search for wisdom;
1Cor. 1:23 but we preach   Christ crucified,  to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles  foolishness,
1Cor. 1:24 but to those who are  the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ  the power of God and  the wisdom of God.
1Cor. 1:25 Because the  foolishness of God is wiser than men, and  the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1Cor. 1:26 ¶ For  consider your  calling, brethren, that there were  not many wise according to  the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
1Cor. 1:27 but  God has chosen the foolish things of  the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of  the world to shame the things which are strong,
1Cor. 1:28 and the base things of  the world and the despised God has chosen,  the things that are not, so that He may  nullify the things that are,
1Cor. 1:29 so that  no  man may boast before God.
1Cor. 1:30 But  by His doing you are in  Christ Jesus, who became to us  wisdom from God,  and  righteousness and  sanctification, and  redemption,
1Cor. 1:31 so that, just as it is written, “ LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

Notice in vs.23-24 Paul says he came to Corinth preaching a foolish message that was guaranteed to be rejected by Jew and Gentile alike, since natural men perceive the Gospel as foolishness. This is exactly as God intended. God intentionally chose a foolish-sounding message (i.e., the message of the cross) as the required content of saving faith, and He did so to shame the so-called wisdom of the world. Then God elected the weak and the ignominious of the world to believe this message, so that in eternity they would serve as witnesses against the so-called wise, strong and noble of the world.

Finally, notice in v.30 Paul says we are "in Christ Jesus" by His (Christ's) doing. None of us became believers because of our own acceptance or agreement with a foolish message. We became believers because the Lord made us so.

Obviously, sending men like Paul to preach and persuade men of the truth of the Gospel is a part of God's plan to grow the church, just as Paul went to Corinth to preach a foolish message, but did God REQUIRE Paul's participation in order to bring faith to Corinth? Self-evidently not, since even Paul himself came to faith without another man preaching the Gospel to him (see Acts 9). Therefore, we conclude that though the Lord doe not NEED men to contribute to the work of salvation, nevertheless the Lord desires to work through me to accomplish His purposes. So we are commanded to go.

Not surprisingly, it was Paul who taught that the persuasive efforts of an evangelist rest upon God for a positive outcome:

2Cor. 5:11  Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are  made manifest also in your consciences.

Paul says he worked diligently to persuade men because of his fear of the Lord, but still he hoped that his presentation would be "made manifest" to his listeners' consciences. This is the relationship between evangelists and the Lord. We are the workers in the field, we plant, we water, but the Lord causes the growth, as Paul wrote:

1Cor. 3:5  What then is Apollos? And what is Paul?  Servants through whom you believed, even  as the Lord gave opportunity to each one.
1Cor. 3:6  I planted,  Apollos watered, but  God was causing the growth.
1Cor. 3:7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.
1Cor. 3:8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will  receive his own  reward according to his own labor.
1Cor. 3:9 For we are God’s  fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

So men must act to preach the word and spread the gospel as a matter of personal obedience, but God gives this command not because it is necessary to create faith. On the contrary, only God can bring saving faith. Instead, we are commanded to obey so we may enjoy the fruits of obedience, which is eternal reward. Salvation comes by God's Spirit with our without our obedience.

Concerning Personal Confession

Paul also wrote:

Rom. 10:9  that  if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and  believe in your heart that  God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
Rom. 10:10 for with the heart a person believes,  resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,  resulting in salvation.

Similarly, Jesus commanded men to repent and believe:

Mark 1:14  Now after John had been  taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,
Mark 1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand;  repent and believe in the gospel.”

Clearly, the scriptures anticipate a specific, personal response from each believer when confronted with the Gospel. Men are to repent, believe, and confess their belief. Furthermore, believers are to enter into the water to receive baptism. All of these steps are expected. Paul says in Romans 10 that a man is made righteous by belief in the heart, but then he goes further to declare that when he confesses this belief with his mouth, the result is salvation.

Since we know that salvation is not dependent on a man's work, how do we reconcile these statements? Paul is speaking about the personal impact of salvation on the individual. As God brings faith to a heart, righteousness is imputed and the person is born again. At this moment, the person has become a believer, but without the step of making a personal confession, their salvation will not be apparent to the individual. They have not demonstrated their faith outwardly.

In the same way that believers are commanded to be water baptized, likewise the confession of faith is the first act of a believer following belief in the heart. Self-evidently, a confession of faith can only come from a believer, and that believer is already saved by faith in the heart even before they open their lips to confess. Like baptism, confession is an act of obedience by a believer who is called to respond to God's grace.

Finally, why are Christians sent to the world with an appeal for the world to "trust in Jesus?" Because this is the manner by which the Lord has chosen to invite his elect into the family of God. When the message is delivered to one who has been called by the Spirit, the hearer will respond and believe. This call and response pattern is God's chosen method. Regardless of the method the Lord chooses, the source of faith and salvation is always the Spirit.